The Pakistan Super League’s (PSL) initial phase of games being played in Dubai’s DSC stadium came to an end on 26 February with yet another embarrassing defeat for the hapless Lahore Qalandars.
This time the tormentors for the Qalandars was the team from Karachi and what appeared to be unnecessary and inane tinkering with the batting order could have well been blamed for the Lahore Qalandars’ demise. Not many observers of this game, however, could deny the absolute pleasure that Shahid Afridi continues to bring to the game. The irrepressible Afridi took 3/19 to earn himself the Player of the Match award.
For a man who recently celebrated his ‘38th’ birthday, PSL 2018 is turning out to be one that he may well cherish, with good performances with the ball, and of course there was that fantastic catch at the boundary in Karachi’s previous game which seemed to roll back the years for 'Boom Boom'.
Mohammad Amir started off well in the tournament, but a minor injury kept him out of the game against Lahore which allowed Usman Khan Shinwari to open his account with a promising 3/26 to announce his arrival in the PSL.
The fans in Dubai, much like the previous versions of the tournaments, failed to turn up in numbers and the hope for the organisers was that more spectators would show up in Sharjah as the tournament shifted venues for the second phase.
Kevin Pietersen's love affair with Sharjah continued and in Quetta’s game against Islamabad United, he demonstrated his relevance to modern Twenty20 with a swashbuckling display that saw him hammer 48 off 34 balls to help his side to a comfortable six-wicket victory against an Islamabad United team struggling for the right combinations. For the 2016 champions, however, the match had some painful memories as they lost their vice-captain Rumman Raees to a knee injury, thanks to a rather poor outfield in Sharjah.
While Pietersen’s excellence in Sharjah – his favoured ground if past editions of the PSL is a guide – seem to signal a shift in gears for the largely slow batting performances in the tournament, the next Quetta game produced fireworks of a more different and heroic nature.
This time it was the turn of the Peshawar Zalmi captain Darren Sammy to grab the headlines. Hampered by an injury to his right leg and with the Zalmi needing 17 to win off only nine balls and looking like losing their way in the chase of 142 runs against Quetta, Sammy produced perhaps the finest display so far of late-order hitting under pressure with 16 runs off just four balls to take his side to an almost improbable five-wicket victory with just two balls remaining.
Possibly the most exciting game of PSL 2018 came about not due to extraordinary feats of tactical brilliance but the hapless Lahore Qalandars' habit of snatching defeats from the jaws of sure-fire victories. Thus on a day when all seemed lost due to abandonment of the much-awaited game between Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings following rain in the desert, the tournament was set alight by the game between Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars. The game was tied and then decided by a super over.
Quite how Lahore managed to turn what looked like a simple run chase into a super drama is something of a mystery but for the spectators and the millions glued to their television screens, this was pure theatre and entertainment that something only Qalandars could have conjured up. Chasing a meagre target of 121, the Qalandars managed to construct a collapse of comedic proportions to be bowled out for 121 with two balls to spare. Lahore were sitting pretty on 77/2 but then somehow folded to 121 all out. The Qalandars players, fans, coaching staff and owners looked bewildered, but felt they surely wouldn't have thrown it away in the super over. The super over was then played out and the match ended in favour of Islamabad after a six off the last ball by Andre Russell off the bowling of a heartbroken Mustafizur Rahman.
With Lahore in danger of disappearing from the tournament in a hurry, the attention shifted to the newbies of the PSL, the Multan Sultans, who have taken the tournament by storm. If their earlier successes could have been attributed to beginner’s luck, their demolition of Quetta Gladiators by nine wickets was truly sensational. Although a low-scoring game does seem out of place in the fast-paced, big-scoring T20 universe, what made this win truly special and memorable was the first hat-trick by a spinner. It was achieved by the ebullient Imran Tahir, although Sohail Tanvir who was adjudged Player of the Match was not too far behind in terms of his effort for his team.
The final two games of the Sharjah leg of the tournament can only be described as drab affairs due to their one-sided nature. Whether it is fatigue setting in or possibly teams getting smarter with their bowling options, the fact is that Peshawar Zalmi’s win by 10 wickets to inflict yet another loss on the Lahore Qalandars does not make for great advertisement of the tournament. The Qalandars again contributed to their own demise with yet another spectacular collapse after being bowled out for 100 when they were 42/1 at one point. Their future in this tournament looks decidedly darker now and a miracle turnaround will be required for them to get anything positive out of PSL 2018.
A similar story was witnessed in the final game of the Sharjah leg with Karachi Kings, ostensibly riding on a wave of confidence, deciding to play a strange and slow brand of cricket before Mohammad Rizwan took them to 153/6. Khurram Manzoor and Babar Azam may have shared a hundred partnership but the balls they used up meant that Karachi were left short of runs. Luke Ronchi then single-handedly smashed the Kings bowling to all parts as he hammered 71 off only 37 balls against an attack that included Tymal Mills, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir and Ravi Bopara. After Ronchi's dismissal, the experienced JP Duminy saw Islamabad home by eight wickets with 16 balls remaining.
So as the tournament takes a break before returning to Dubai, Multan lead the way on net run rate ahead of Karachi Kings. Peshawar, Islamabad and Quetta are still in touching distance of the leaders with Lahore currently looking like a team who would rather be at home.